CLOSE
Original image

The Cool History of the Slurpee

Original image

When President Obama commented that the Republicans were standing around drinking Slurpees while the Democrats were busy creating real change in Washington, it caused quite a storm. Now that he's sitting down with the new Republican leadership, the so-called “Slurpee Summit” is the talk of the nation. While most of us have had one of 7-Eleven's frozen concoctions, there's plenty more you probably don't know about this too cool drink.

A Happy Accident

Like so many great inventions, the Slurpee was created by accident. In the late-1950s, Omar Knedlik of Kansas City owned an old Dairy Queen whose machinery was always breaking down. When his soda fountain went out, he improvised by putting some bottles in the freezer to stay cool. However, when he popped the top, they were a little frozen and slushy. Folks loved them and started requesting “those pops that were in a little bit longer.”

Realizing he had a surprise hit on his hands, Knedlik built a machine in the back room using the air conditioning unit from a car that would create slushy soda by combining and freezing a flavor mix, water, and carbon dioxide to make it fizz. He held a “Name the Product” contest and the winning entry was “ICEE.” With help from an engineering and manufacturing company in Dallas, the ICEE machine was redesigned and sold to a few convenience stores throughout the early 1960s.

But things really took off when, in 1965, 7-Eleven licensed the machine, but called the drink by a different name to make it unique for their stores. The name Slurpee was coined by Bob Stanford, a 7-Eleven ad agency director, when he described the sound made while sipping it through a straw.

Kids Love 'Em

Thanks to inventive advertising aimed at the growing youth market, Slurpees were an instant hit with the Woodstock generation. The cups featured colorful, almost psychedelic designs, and the flavors — “Fulla Bulla,” “For Adults Only,” and “Kiss Me, You Fool” — were edgy for the time. 7-Eleven ads were so popular that radio DJs were getting call-in requests for Slurpee commercials. One 1970 campaign featured a full-length song, "Dance the Slurp," written by one of the founding fathers of radio jingles, Tom Merriman. It was released on free, promotional 45 rpm records available in 7-Eleven stores. The catchy little tune was a huge hit at the time and its influence even extended into the late-1990s, when turntablists Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow used the song as the inspiration for their 1999 album, Brainfreeze. Because so few copies of the giveaway album still exist, copies of "Dance the Slurp" regularly go for as much as $50 on eBay.

In the 1970s, 7-Eleven started selling special cups with images of sports stars, comic book characters, early video games, and even rock bands. The cups kept kids coming back to complete the entire collection. Later, limited edition Slurpee flavors started accompanying the cups to create a complete marketing package. This is a tradition that has continued today through promotional tie-ins with video games, professional wrestling, and extreme sports.

In recent years, Slurpees have come in annual summer movie cups and flavors. Dating back to 2002, when the tie-in for Men In Black II was a blackberry drink, the promo cups and flavors have grown more and more elaborate (and popular). The biggest hit so far has been the Iron Man franchise, with special collector's cups that feature 3-D character designs and a special helmet dome lid. They've been sold on eBay for three times what they originally sold for in the store. However, for The Simpson's Movie in 2007, they went beyond just redesigned cups and wacky flavors. Select 7-Elevens were converted to look inside and out like Kwik-E-Marts, the 7-Eleven parody on the show, complete with “Squishees,” the cartoon world's version of the Slurpee. The tie-in flavor that summer was Woo-Hoo Vanilla Blue, probably one of Homer's favorites.

The Slurpee Factory

You'd think the last thing Canadians would want is a frozen drink. But every year since 1999, Winnipeg, Manitoba, has been crowned the Slurpee Capital of the World. Detroit sells the most cups of any U.S. metro area, but the largest single Slurpee-selling store in the U.S. is the one in Kennewick, Washington, which locals have dubbed “The Slurpee Factory.” Overall, North Americans sip almost 13 million Slurpee drinks every month. And since 1966, close to 6.5 billion Slurpee drinks have been sold, enough to almost fulfill your dreams of buying the world a (frozen) Coke.

Happy Birthday to Us

Every year since 2002, on July 11 (that's 7/11, of course), the company celebrates its birthday with “7-Eleven Day.” Only in this case, the customers get the present — free 7.11-ounce Slurpees for the first 1,000 people through the door of participating stores. It's estimated that the company gives away over 5,000,000 Slurpees to happy customers on this one day.

But Is it Kosher?


In case you were wondering, almost all Slurpee flavors are considered kosher pareve (food that is neither meat nor dairy). There are a few, such as Diet Pepsi and the Jolly Rancher mixes, that are considered kosher dairy (due to the chemical tagatose in the artificial sweetener), while others, like the popular Piña Colada drink, are not certified at all. Some 7-Eleven stores get the machines themselves certified kosher, which the store owners use as a selling point for their Jewish customers.

Mixology

As any regular Slurpee fan knows, one of the best parts about the self-serve drink is being able to mix flavors from different dispensers. According to Slurpee market research, 41% of slurpers never mix their flavors, 37% always do, and 21% will mix every once in a while. The most popular combinations use the Coke flavor as a base, with a fruity mix on top — often Wild Cherry or Piña Colada. But of course for the really daring, there’s always the “Suicide Slurpee” — mixing a little bit of every flavor from the row of dispensers.

No Wonka Required

Some of the wilder Slurpee flavors on tap have been Grapermelon, Darth Dew (a tie-in with Star Wars), Bubble Yum, Banana Cream Pie, Mango Bango, Red Licorice, Purple S-Cream, Slurpurita Pomegranate, and Shrekalicious (a tie-in with Shrek). Most of these and other wild and wacky flavors sound like they could come from a factory run by a guy named Wonka. But in fact, most are the invention of the mad scientists at the Dr Pepper Snapple Labs in Plano, Texas. (Yes, they make Snapple and Dr Pepper flavors, too).

To create a new Slurpee flavor requires a savvy combination of science, senses, and marketing. One of their biggest challenges is keeping up on flavor trends, such as knowing that exotic fruits like acai, yumberry, litchi, and dragon fruit are becoming popular with consumers; whereas previously hot flavors, like mango and pomegranate, are now commonplace. Of course just because it's popular doesn't necessarily mean it will taste good. They go through numerous rounds of product testing until they get the flavor just right. But once they've locked down the taste, they have to consider the name, the color, and the consistency of the mix when it's cooled to the standard 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The process can take weeks or even months to go from concept to your corner store.

Purple for the People

For the upcoming Slurpee Summit, 7-Eleven has offered to provide symbolic Slurpees — red for Republican, blue for Democrat, and a new flavor, “Purple for the People,” which combines the two colors. So far, their offer has not been accepted, but some in the White House say the drinks could still make an appearance. Regardless, the pending sit-down has been reason enough for 7-Eleven to launch a massive promotional campaign in the form of the Slurpee Unity Tour, a cross-country trek from 7-Eleven's Dallas headquarters to the nation's capital, giving away free samples of their new purple drink to Slurpee fans along the way.

This isn't the first time 7-Eleven has gone political. Since the 2000 Presidential election, the company has run a promotion called “7-Election,” where customers vote by purchasing special red or blue coffee cups printed with each candidate's name. The cups are scanned at check-out and automatically entered in this unscientific, but surprisingly accurate poll – in 2000 and 2004, the number of coffee cup votes and the number of actual popular votes for both candidates was only off by 1 or 2 percentage points. While 2008's 7-Elections results were still correct, they gave the election to Obama by a landslide — 60% to 40% — when the margin was really only about 7%.

Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
arrow
Lists
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Original image
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
Original image
Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
Original image
Getty Images

Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios